There are a lot of reasons to cut down your bacon habit—your health, animal welfare, the giant lagoons of pig poop it takes to make it. But one major obstacle: It’s delicious.
Researchers from Oregon State University may have solved that problem, KGW Portland reports, by patenting a strain of seaweed that they claim cooks up just like the beloved crispy, succulent, pork product—without the pork.
This kind of seaweed, called dulse, grows naturally along the coastlines of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, but the researchers developed a way to farm it commercially and harvest it, so that it could be used as feed for the abalone, a sea snail that’s considered a delicacy.
“The original goal was to create a super-food for abalone, because high-quality abalone is treasured, especially in Asia,” researcher Chris Langdon says on the OSU site. And for the past 15 years, that’s what it has been used for.
But when Chuck Toombs, a faculty member at OSU’s College of Business, saw the dulse growing, he recognized the potential. Its nutritional value—twice that of kale—combined with the farming methods, and of course, the bacon-like flavor, had the makings of something much bigger than fish food.
Dulse looks like a translucent red lettuce, is packed with minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, and when the wild version is dried, can sell for up to $90 per pound, according to OSU, though most of what’s available online is in the $30-$50 per pound range. (Currently available versions are snacks and flavoring powders.)
It’s not the first time scientists and chefs have noted the presence of “umami,” the mysteriously delicious fifth basic taste that’s present in meat, cheese, mushrooms, and soy, in seaweed. But OSU is going a step further in invoking the holy grail of meat-lovers, bacon.
OSU’s dulse is not yet for sale to the public, as the research team at OSU’s Food Innovation Center in Portland continues to experiment with it and Toomb’s MBA students develop a marketing plan for selling the products. But the hopes for dulse are high.
“Theoretically, you could create an industry in eastern Oregon almost as easily as you could along the coast with a bit of supplementation,” says Langdon. “You just need a modest amount of seawater and some sunshine.”
The featured photo was shared by Akuppa John Wigham on Flickr under a Creative Commons license. It has been cropped.